The dull light of dawn cast the cabin in shades of gray. Julia stretched and listened. The knight was snoring. The last coals of the fire sizzled, smoke hanging heavy in the room. Wind? There was no wind.
“Thanks be for the small things,” she muttered. She rolled over, the boards biting into her back. Now that she was awake, the pervasive cold ate into her flesh. The shawl and horse blanket provided poor protection from the night.
She stood and peered down at him. His large frame overflowed the small cot.
“Pity you had to use it. It doesn’t fit you.”
After tucking her one good quilt around his giant body last night, Julia had tried to ignore him. Her fear of the large warrior fought with the desperate need to talk to someone—anyone! Now in the light of day, she remained torn. She knew it would be best to wake him up and send him on his way with his odd horse. He snuffled and tossed. Even in his sleep he sounded fearsome.
Her stomach growled. “Yes, I know,” she informed it. “I have a little left. It’ll be enough for today.” She set about freshening the fire and setting a kettle to boil. The sack of oats lay limp in the corner. But there was enough for one last meal. She poured the contents into a pot.
A small trap hung over the mantle. “Maybe I can find a rabbit or two,” she wished aloud.
The boards creaked behind her. She turned to meet her unwanted guest. He towered over her, but he no longer weaved on his feet.
“Where’s Socrates?” he demanded.
“The horse. Where’d you put him?” He scratched at his chest.
Julia turned back to the fire, stirring her breakfast. “I sent him out back to the shed.”
“mmmrph,” was the only word he replied with.
Julia stirred the porridge some more. More than it needed. She was nervous. He grunted and there was some stomping as he put on his boots. The door opened and closed.
Julia cast a glance at the cot. His armor and steel were still there. He hadn’t left. He had only went to see to his horse.
As the cabin warmed, she cracked open the shutter of the small window next to the door, letting more light into the room. Brilliant sun poured in. His surcoat sat in a splash of morning light.
Thinking she could now determine the crest on it, she lifted the heavy wool garment.
“Is it a hart? Or a gryphon?” she asked nobody in particular, angling the surcoat in the sunshine.
“It’s a dragon.”
Julia dropped the garment as she spun to meet the stranger’s questioning gaze.
He smiled a very crooked and wicked smile as he pulled a heavy gold chain from beneath his tunic.
Julia swallowed. She closed her eyes, wishing she would not see the pendant that would surely be dangling from it. Knowing the moment of truth was at hand, she opened one eye.
A gold coin swung from the chain. Pressed into the pendant was a golden dragon entwined about a sword. A ruby glittered from the beast’s eye.
He was even worse than an enemy soldier.
“I saved a bloody pirate,” she whispered.
His grin deepened. “Aye, that you did, my dear. Lucky for you, I’m a well-fed pirate.” With his other hand, he held a small sack of dried meat out to his hostess. “Why don’t we sit for a bit and introduce ourselves?”